We’re sitting in our truck, parked along the periphery of the church parking lot. It’s a hot morning and we’re taking advantage of the shade provided by the catalpa trees. There are a number of vehicles around the lot, spaced like a string of pearls. Only two brave souls are in the middle of the asphalt field.
Each of us had options: we could have stayed home and ignored a call to worship. We could have stayed home and participated by Zoom. Or we could drive to the church and park. The folks who drove to the church are listening to the pastor broadcast from the sanctuary on our FM radio… his broadcast range is about a quarter mile radius. We are listening to the organist sing and play from her Zoom connection. I look at the other folks, all gray headed and think: how many more years can this last, before we all die off and leave the church without a congregation? What would be the consequence?
When we three old guys started this blog, one of the main objectives was to express how we experience the aging process – things that you aren’t taught when young. I would tell my grandkids that you might expect that worship in a group is an act that you may find more pleasing as you grow older. If you are wise, you may realize it sooner than later.
Certainly, I didn’t. The idea of attending a worship service seemed a waste of time when I was a teenager and young adult. There were better things to do than spend time in a boring service with hypocrites that prayed in one fashion, but acted in an entirely different fashion. Besides, who has a monopoly on the ‘real truth’?
So, why are we at this service in the hot sun? I think there are two reasons: a) the act of exercising faith is important personally and collectively b) we are community-building.
My opinion is that by worship, one humbles oneself before the great unknown. In addition, it is part of a compact to improve oneself morally. It is a discipline that is common to all faiths. It is a visible act, witnessed by others that says I’m willing to do better, to be better — to think of others. Worship in a group multiplies the effect in my mind – it’s an implied public commitment. Participants are joining in common purpose, if only for an hour or so. Is it perfect – are we perfect? Of course not. But it is brave. And what would be the consequence of never honoring the possibility that we are purpose-made? The consequence would be the negation of the second reason: community-building. As an example, our congregation is a mix of people with all kinds of varying opinions. Yet we put all that aside for a weekly meeting to focus on spiritual matters. People chose to drive to this place of worship to sit in hot cars – because we have a need to see our neighbors and recognize a common purpose. Showing up expresses mutual respect. I call this community-building. It is quiet affirmation that the larger community in which we live still binds us together, regardless of our political persuasion, personal pursuits, or aspects of our lives where we miss the mark. We are not here for a party, nor for protest – but rather to remind ourselves that there is a great beyond which deserves homage.
Note: the image is from a 1945 painting by Marianne Appel, who was a member of the Woodstock School of Art. She later focused on puppeteering with Bill Baird and later, the Muppet Show. She remained active in the arts community in Woodstock. I wanted to reference a local artist who depicted a community working together — what better than a barn raising? Although this Indiana community is pretty homogeneous, it shows inclusion of all neighbors, regardless of age or sex. In other words, I value the spirit of people working together to build something; doing the heavy lifting made easier by many joined hands. Do you have a favorite piece of art that represents your view of community building?
Being in Community
I appreciate this message Wal leaves for his grandchildren. Faith, self-improvement, and community are words that hold great meaning for me.
I no longer worship as a member of a religious congregation but I once did. I fondly remember an instance when we were all singing a well known, uplifting prayer and my friend glanced at me and smiled. It was a look that said, isn’t it great to be standing here with all these people, giving thanks and feeling good? It was a powerful moment that could only happen in community.
Years ago I was a member of The Caring Community. We defined our community as a place where people felt valued, accepted, and connected. We came together regularly for two reasons: to participate in personal growth and to provide service to others. I never thought of it as a religious organization but it served similar purposes. We were a diverse group and while we did not live in the same area we were committed to each other and to our intention. We had lots to celebrate despite (or because of…) our challenges and struggles. For five years we endured and when we realized we could no longer sustain the rigors and responsibilities of our group, we met in solidarity to honor what we had learned and experienced and then went our separate ways. I am wiser, more self aware, and a stronger person because of this amazing collaboration of people.
For fifteen years I was part of another extraordinary community – my place of work. And because we built this union of some seventy-five people around respect, hard work, cooperation, celebration, and fun, it never really felt like work. It was, in many ways, a second home for me.
Recently, I was part of an Alliance created to provide support and guidance for a friend at her request. It was an example of a brief but powerful community of service. I hope to be part of one again in the near future.
And finally, during this time of continued isolation and restrictions due to risk of exposure to COVID-19 I realize how fortunate I am to be in community with two remarkably wise and caring men, Wal and Geo. Working, serving, and playing with groups of people continue to be, as Wal puts it, the ties that bind. I always feel more complete and fulfilled when I am part of such a community.
The Need to Belong
Ever since I started school I always wanted to fit in. Even at a young age I knew I was different but didn’t understand it. (That just intensified my need to be accepted. Later on, I would define that difference and still struggle to be a part of a group). I was too small and too skinny to be much good at sports. In school it was hard to be a part of a group if you couldn’t make a basket because of your skinny arms and lack of muscle structure. Team sports was an opportunity to fit in with a group that was denied to me. And, though I was popular in high school, I never had a clique to belong to.
Finally, in college I was accepted into a fraternity and for the first time I had a group of friends with a common purpose and a place to belong. It made me feel special and accepted, and made friends that have lasted a lifetime.
The need to belong followed me into my adult life and I became a part of groups with common purposes that changed as careers and interests evolved. I became president of my kids‘ PTA, president of my local teachers’ union and active in regional teachers unions. When there was no professional group to join I helped organize one for innkeepers to talk out common problems and encourage tourism to our area in Vermont. I even fulfilled a lifelong dream and auditioned for a part in local community theatre where I achieved the official part of Salesman #1 in “The Music Man“ and suddenly I was a part of a cast of some 40 people working together to entertain our community. That further led to joining the Northeast Chordsmen, a barbershop chorus out of Dartmouth College. All of these organizations had the common purpose requirement that I so desperately needed all my life!
Now in retirement, that need is still present. Unlike Wally, my faith has always been individually practiced, praying silently or out loud at bedtime! It gives me comfort in that I usually pray when something is eating away at me and it forces me to focus on the prayer rather than the irritant until the irritant lessens!
Today I belong to two very important groups in my life with common goals that help me find purpose. I have a community of LGBTQ friends where I finally fit in like the last piece of the puzzle waiting to be positioned to create a beautiful landscape. The other and equally important group is this 3 member blog that has become all the more important to me due to this crazy pandemic with which we are all infected.